Update: Feb. 25
Four-year-old, Gritty-loving Jack Callahan finished treatment at CHOP on Feb. 20, his father Mike Callahan said in an email to Billy Penn. Jack’s oncologist told the family there is “no evidence of disease,” and will know whether Jack is totally cancer free when he receives his next medical scans in March.
Still, said Mike, “no evidence of disease is a big deal, especially considering how extensive his cancer was last year at this time.”
And it looks like Jack and Gritty are still as tight as ever.
All Jack wants for his birthday this year is a cake with Gritty on it — and it looks like he might be getting more than he asked for.
The 3-year-old is currently undergoing cancer treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and from his room he penned an open letter to the Flyers mascot.
“I love you, Gritty,” begins the note, which has since gone viral on Instagram. The message goes on to announce Jack’s desire to dress up as Gritty for Halloween, and to ask politely for a themed cake to celebrate turning 4 on Oct. 30. “I am your biggest fan in the world and I love you,” Jack closes.
“He came up with that on his own,” Jack’s father, Mike Callahan, told Billy Penn. His son had spotted a Gritty cake at a downtown bakeshop a while back, Callahan said, and it stuck in his mind.
“He’s loved mascots for well over a year,” Callahan said of his son. “We asked what he wanted to be for Halloween and at some point he just started saying Gritty. Gritty, Gritty, Gritty.”
Originally from Charlottesville, Va., the Callahans found themselves in Philadelphia not long after Jack was diagnosed with a rare cancer that developed from germ cell tumors. The young boy underwent four rounds of chemotherapy in his home state and then the family relocated so Jack could receive further treatment at a specialized hospital.
During a themed summer camp initiative in July, the CHOP oncology floor was dedicated to Gritty. And after that, so was Jack.
“He has kind of taken his own interest in Gritty,” Callahan said of his son. “We haven’t really encouraged it much, he just kind of developed his own interest in it. That’s his favorite mascot.”
He and Jack’s mother Emily first shared the letter in a group chat they maintain to provide updates on Jack’s condition.
On Saturday, Mike’s brother Ryan posted the letter on Instagram. Support poured in after @grittyphilly, an unaffiliated fan and meme page with more than 20,000 followers, reposted the note. “Where are you from?” Jack writes to the mascot. “What food do you like to eat?”
Several local bakeries — including Whipped Bakeshop, Crust Vegan Bakery and Ardmore-based Delice Et Chocolat — have offered to donate a Gritty cake for the cause. Someone offered to make Jack a crocheted Gritty doll, and another Instagrammer wants to bring Jack a Gritty costume.
“It sounds a little silly but it was emotional and we both cried a little bit at all the support and comments,” Ryan said of him and his fiancee. “We couldn’t believe how much Jack’s note resonated with people and the kindness of so many strangers who don’t know Jack but wanted to help!”
What about the object of Jack’s adoration? Many people have tagged both the Flyers and the real Gritty NHL account in hopes of getting the franchise’s attention.
So far, there’s been nothing official — the mascot is currently workcationing in Lausanne, Switzerland and Prague as the Flyers play exhibition games and go through training camp. But according to several folks close to Jack’s family, there are rumblings that the great fuzzy orange one might make a personal appearance.
Meanwhile, with all that’s going on, Mike still hasn’t gotten around to actually mailing the letter. He said he hasn’t yet heard directly from Gritty or the Flyers team.
“People praying for us and praying for Jack,” he said, “that’s been more meaningful than meeting Gritty.” Still, Mike said, “we would welcome it.”
Either way, there’ll be cake. Callahan surmises Jack might get more than one Gritty dessert, considering the response. If that happens, they plan to share the baked goods with other children going through cancer treatment at CHOP.
“I think any attention Jack gets for being this cute little 3-year-old and being obsessed with Gritty, I hope that could be something that raises awareness about all the kids here fighting cancer,” Callahan said.
“There’s 50 beds on the oncology floor here and they’re all full. I hope that anyone who notices something about Jack…will support CHOP, and childhood cancer research, and charities if they feel inspired by his battle.”